Sermon: No Love for things

Exodus 20:1-17

We come tonight to the close of our series on the Ten Commandments. This may be the hardest for us to submit to, especially when one lives in a culture and time where “things” are so readily available and have become so important.

But this desire for things is not new at all. Jesus spoke more parables about our attitude to money and things than He did about anything else.

Paul writes to Timothy and says “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (I Timothy 6: 6-10)

God will hold each one of us accountable – not only for the deeds and the actions that are committed by the body, but also for the thoughts and the desires and the wants and the lusts and the attitudes that are working, brewing and churning on the inside of us.

This 10th Commandment is a reminder for us to continuously keep a check into “what” means the most to us. What do we value the most in our life?
Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

A missionary from a poor poverty stricken country was visiting the churches which were contributing to his ministry on a regular basis. During the services he would give reports of the work there and he would show slides and pictures of the conditions that he and his people were forced to endure. Both the minister and the congregation were stirred and wept because of the faithfulness of the people, living for Jesus despite such horrible living conditions of poverty.
At the end of one of these services, the minister walked up to the missionary and said, “My dear Brother, we will be praying for you and your people. It must be so difficult for you and your people to be faithful in living for Jesus when there is such poverty and need all around you. Satan must be working so hard that your people have had to give up so much. Our church will certainly be praying for you.”

However the poor missionary replied, “We do appreciate your prayers but it is you and your people that my dear people pray for a daily basis. when we look at the great abundance of things all about you, we realize just how hard it must be for you to stay faithful in living for Jesus Christ. My church will be praying that you do not yield to the temptation of things.”

This 10th Commandment is different from each of the nine Commandments. When each of these is transgressed or disobeyed, it is done so by the body. The sin and the rebellion can be witnessed by people who may be standing close by. When you see someone disobeying the first nine Commandments then you know they have transgressed.

The transgression of the 10th Commandment is not committed by the body and seen outwardly by others. This transgression happens in the mind, the heart, the soul and only God has the power and ability to look within us and see what is actually taking place.

I Samuel 16:7 “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Disobeying this 10th Commandment is not so much an act as it is a spirit, a processing and developing of thoughts and attitudes about “things”
“Things” can be very dangerous! Before any transgression against the Law of God is committed, it is first committed in the heart, the mind, and the soul. Satan worked this way with Eve in the garden of Eden before she partook of the forbidden fruit. The Scriptures tell us that Eve desired the fruit. The decision was made mentally before she stretched her arm out and grabbed the fruit.

This 10th commandment points to not only the world’s biggest of problems — it also points very directly to the church’s biggest problems today.
Things have become many people’s God. Even many professing Christians are hung up in the curse of the possession and ownership of things. They pay much more attention to things than they do to their souls.

Many churches have faced incredible issues over money and things. What took years and years to build only took just a little while for covetousness to bring down.

Satan knows exactly where each of our personal weakness lies. He cannot read our minds but he has watched the way we behave around certain people and certain things. He patiently follows us and is pretty good at taking notes about our conduct. After he sizes us up, he sends in his army to bombard us, to bring strong temptations our way, wrapped in beautiful alluring packages to tease our vices. That’s why every personal weakness needs to constantly be given over to Jesus.

It is amazing how Satan can place a thought, a desire for things within our mind and our heart. It seems that we think about that thing constantly, all day long we cannot get it out of our head. Our mind is filled with a churning, a gnawing, a burning, until that thing is actually ours. Once we have it we treasure it as a rare diamond but once its disguise is removed we see it for what it really is -a deadly serpent filled with poison. Or, having stood on toes and denied grace all round, we find that it really has no value for us at all and it lies gathering dust and rust.

We live in a gimme, gimme, take, take world. We have more gidgets, gadgets, and whatchamacallits then any people before us. This is the day of the Malls and Supermarkets. Advertising focuses on how we will find happiness and completeness in possessions. Status is the issue of the day and its measured in name brands and company logo’s. Once upon a time a manufacturer’s name was discreetly hidden inside – now its scrawled across your chest, labeled on your wrist because to have something is to be someone.

A.        But coveting destroys relationships:
James 4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

That’s what coveting does.
It destroys relationships in the home

Many homes have been destroyed because of the burning desire for more and more things.

There is nothing wrong with desiring things like new cars, new houses, new jobs, better education, new furniture, etc. It is not the thing that is wrong, it is the priority we attach to the things.
Satan wants us to get caught up in things and we spend more time and more effort on the house than we do the home.

Peer Pressure is not limited to teenagers. Adults also want
bigger and more expensive toys.
Competing with people at work
Competing with the neighbors
Competing with family members
Competing with the people at church
Just got to have what they have and even bigger and better.

But there is a problem with having to have things.
1. You devote all your time to those things.
They take you away from your family.
Your family soon become strangers to you.
Children grow up without you knowing them.
There is a lack of communication.
Husband and wife pull in different directions.

You end up paying a price for things which cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

2. Things get you into debt and damage relationships

I tell every couple who come for premarital counseling that the biggest issue in marriage is not your expectations, or your mother-in-law, or your sex life –its money.

Credit Cards give you credit but they get you into debt. Most are geared for repayments at the minimum rate and the banks make a killing. If you work it out you can end up paying 3 or 4 times the cost for every meal you eat out if you are not careful.

But mostly credit cards are geared for you to buy the things you want but can’t really afford. You see your friend has a new gadget, you don’t have the money, so use your credit card.

Most people with credit cards cannot get out of debt –they have to live with what we called kite-flying when I was in the bank. You rob Peter to pay Paul and your debt spiral just gets deeper and deeper.
And all this financial pressure is hard on marriage and the family.

B         Coveting also destroys our relationship with God.
Things have a tendency to demand all our attention and to take us away from God. I’ve known people who were faithful to God, who were regularly in Church but that “thing” demanded their attention –they had to have the 4X4 that a friend has, a speedboat, a motorbike, a beach cottage. They rationalized and rationalized until they got it. They assured me that this was just a leisure thing and that they would still regularly be in church but not long after the acquisition their attendance began to decline until they didn’t come to church at all.

A similar thing happens with children and sport. Each parent wants their child to be the best, to be in the first team –they fetch and carry them around on Sunday to compete against the children of their friends and their spiritual life dies as they pursue this covetous happiness.
But when we get sick, or our children need prayer, the things and the sports awards will not help us. When we need salvation the things of this world are no good at all.

Jesus’ advice was : “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousnes and all these things shall be added unto you.”
God is not against things — He loves to bless His people… But things become sin when we value them more than we value God and His word.
Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

I Timothy 6:7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

Verse 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Someone once said that “Eternal life is one thing you don’t want to leave home without.” One day we will leave everything else behind. Only what has been done for Christ will matter.

Matthew 6:19-24

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

WHAT TREASURES ARE YOU LAYING UP IN HEAVEN?


Sermon: Sanctified Reputation

Exodus 20:1-17

I want to begin with three famous quotes. They are all from American President’s and I am sure that you have heard them before, but I want you to think about what they all have in common.

“Read My Lips, No New Taxes.” – George Bush

“I do not know that woman.” – Bill Clinton.

“The American people have a right to know that their president is not a crook. And I am not a crook.” – Richard Nixon

What do they have in common?

They are lies. Each one breaks the ninth commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” The word translated as “False witness” or “false testimony” refers to all kinds of false speech – perjury, innuendo, lies, deceit, falsehood and gossip.

We read in Proverbs 6:16 – 19 a list of seven things which God hates. “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

Virtually all of them touch on some aspect of false speech.

And our never changing God carried that thought over into the New Testament when He led Paul to write in Ephesians 4:20 25 the implications of living as children of light. Listen to how much of this passage is devoted to truth and to avoiding deceit.

” But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

25          What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.” THE MESSAGE

I doubt that there is another commandment, other than the first, which is so routinely violated in our culture these days. And it’s not just these days. You probably can’t find another topic so thoroughly covered in the Bible. Scripture’s prohibitions against lying, and its commandments to tell the truth, are found in both Testaments and in almost every book. Clearly, human beings have had a problem with telling lies when the truth would have done better since the very beginning.

The most direct application of the ninth commandment involves perjury in a formal judicial hearing. And the Law of Moses took perjury very seriously.

Listen to Deuteronomy 19:15 – 21.

15 One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, 17 the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, 19 then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

God knew that when testimony is given in a court of law, more than fortunes are at stake. Lives may be on the line. But we must not limit this law to legal proceedings. It covers far more than the testimony people give under oath. This commandment seeks to protect the sanctity of a person’s reputation.

Solomon writes in Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

When we falsely accuse someone of something, we have taken from them something that cannot be returned. Ask anyone whose ever been accused of dishonest business practices if they’ve ever lived down the false charge? Or of those falsely accused of sexual crimes.

And its not just false testimony about someone’s character that robs them of their reputation. Anytime we gossip about someone, even if it what we say is true, we are violating at the very least the spirit of the 9th commandment, if not the letter. Gossip is simply the vice of confessing someone else’s sins.
Let me suggest something you can do to stop gossip. The next time someone sidles up to you and says, “Hey, did you hear about …. “, say this; “No and I don’t think I want to hear about it. I’m sure you’ve carefully researched all the facts, but in the unlikely event that you are wrong, what you are about to tell me will forever change how I feel about this person. And even if it is true, I don’t need to hear it. You need to speak directly to the person concerned.”

Or you could simply quote scripture to them. James 4:11 says, “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against or judges his brother or sister, speaks against the law and judges it.”

Now I know that’s pretty strong language and we might have a hard time saying that. But I’ve found that you virtually have to hit gossips over the head with a plank to get the point across. And if they talk to you about someone else, you just bet that they are probably talking to someone else about you.

Don’t think you are jeopardizing a healthy relationship by being blunt. In fact, you may be saving their soul by wounding their pride. Remember, one of the things God hates is someone who stirs up dissension among brothers and sisters.

A good rule to deal with issues which we feel are offensive is found in Matthew 18:15-18. “If someone has offended you, tell them privately. If that doesn’t help, take one or two others along as witnesses. And if you are still frustrated, tell it to the church. If even that doesn’t help, then no longer treat him as a brother.”

Perjury and gossip are covered by the 9th commandment and so is good old fashioned lying. There are many different ways to tell a lie. Sometimes we lie by intentionally using inaccurate words.

But there are other ways of lying. Someone once said, “The essence is in deception, not in words. A lie may be told by silence, by hedging, by the accent on a syllable … and all these kinds of lies are worse than a lie plainly told.”

Perhaps a workable definition of what it means to lie would be like this – anything we purposefully say or do that is intended to mislead another person.

So does that mean that not telling everything you know is a lie? Not necessarily. Honesty means that everything you say must be true, not that everything that is true must be said.

If I think your new hairstyle is funny, I’m not going to volunteer an opinion. But if you ask me what I think of your new hairstyle, we both have a problem. I must be quick enough on my feet to give you an honest, but gentle answer and you must be brave enough to accept the answer you asked for.

On the other hand, if you have information that you are morally obligated to share, your silence is a lie.

And let me add this just here. Lies don’t come in colors. There is no such thing as a white lie. What we mean by a “white lie,” is apparently one that doesn’t hurt anybody. One that doesn’t involve important issues. One that simply spares someone hurt feelings or avoids a potential confrontation we have deemed unnecessary. But there is no such thing.
In real life people’s feelings are wounded, their trust in what we say is eroded, our relationship is made cheap.

Jesus said something haunting in Matthew 12:36, 37. “But I tell you that men and women will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.”

Dallas Willard writes about a two-year-old girl in the backyard who one day discovered the secret to making mud (which she called “warm chocolate”). Her grandmother had been reading and was facing away from the action, but after cleaning up the mess, she told little Larissa not to make any more chocolate and turned her chair around so as to be facing her granddaughter.

The little girl soon resumed her “warm chocolate” routine, with one request posed as sweetly as a two- year-old can make it: “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?”

Nana of course agreed. Larissa continued to manufacture warm chocolate. Three times she said, as she continued her work, “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?”

Then Willard writes, “Thus the tender soul of a little child shows us how necessary it is to us that we be unobserved in our wrong.”

Any time we choose to break the 9th Commandment or any of the Commandments in fact, we choose hiddenness as well. It may be that out of all the prayers that are ever spoken, the most common one-the quietest one, the one that we least acknowledge making-is simply this: Don’t look at me, God.

It was the very first prayer spoken after the Fall. God came to walk in the garden, to be with the man and the woman, and called, “Where are you?”
“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid, … so I hid.” Don’t look at me, God.

When we cheat on our taxes or deliberately make a coworker look bad, or when a student who looks at somebody else’s paper during an exam. A church member who looks forward to the chance to gossip.

All first must say a little prayer. Don’t look at me, God.

We don’t say it out loud, of course. We probably don’t admit it even to ourselves. But it’s the choice our heart makes: Don’t look at me, God.

After a while this prayer can become so ingrained that we’re not even aware of it.

When we lie, by our silence, by intentionally misleading someone, by outright deceit, we erode the foundation of trust on which community is built, and our prayer becomes Don’t Look At me God.

Lies are the deeply hidden fault lines beneath our lives. Even the slightest movement away from full and total honesty sends a tremor to the surface where we live, shaking everything we have labored to build.

It takes decades to build a citadel of trust. It takes just one lie to tear it down.


Sermon: Trusting Community

Exodus 20:1-17

YOU SHALL NOT STEAL
Beneath these terse words of the eighth commandment, is an ageless principle. God intends for his people to live in trusting, loving community with each other.

To steal is to take something which belongs to another and to claim it for yourself.

It is more than simply taking stuff – it is a violation of trust.

It creates insecurity in the community

And it raise walls between friends,

 

FIVE PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNITY

First, the right of ownership
If you and I are forbidden to take by stealth or violence the property of another, then God is in fact affirming the right of human beings to own possessions.

All through the Scriptures, the rights of people to own and manage property and possessions are affirmed. In fact, in the Old Testament, restitution is demanded of thieves who steal another’s property.
Exodus 22:3 requires a thief to pay back double what he took.

Why does God seek to protect the right of ownership. Things cannot make us happy, but we do need things – houses, money, food, clothing, and transportation – to live. In protecting ownership, God is protecting life and health.

The second principle is the dignity of work.
There are really only four scriptural ways to gain something; work for them, purchase them, inherit them, and receive them as gifts. Any thing else is sinful.

Virtually every experiment with socialism has failed because people stop working and/or lose any incentive to work well.

Why work when the community will force those who already have the necessities of life to give them to you?

Paul talks about this in Ephesians 4:28. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Stealing is often, not always, but often a means of avoiding work. By its very nature it devalues labor and productivity. But it does more than that. It devalues people.

It assumes that other human beings exist as an opportunity for exploitation and gain. They exist to serve the needs or desires of the thief.
Again, the focus is not on possessions, but on people. Paul wanted his readers to work not so that they could amass for themselves limitless possessions, but so that they could help people in need.

A third principle of community is honesty.
Without honesty, community becomes a combat zone where people take advantage of every opportunity to exploit another’s misfortune for their own gain.

Margie and I were driving back from a holiday with my late Dad one time when we came across a truck rollover. A truck was full of liquor – there were up to 40 cars in front and behind the truck and people were carrying box loads of gin bottles from the truck to their cars. At the truck itself, the poor driver was hopelessly trying to stop the looting but people just pushed him out of the way.

It’s pretty easy for us to judge to people who pillage an overturned truck. But what about when the till operator short changes you? What happens when the waitress forgets to include something on your bill?

Insurance claims? Taxes. Expense reports.

Incorrect or falsified billing – charging for 6 hours when you only worked 5. What happens when you find a $10 note on the floor?

We’re tempted to blame the inefficiency of till operators or the gullibility of customers. Or we fall back on that tired old cliché, “Finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers.”

But the Bible calls us to a rigorous standard of honesty. Deuteronomy 22:1 says that if you find your brother’s ox you are to return it. And just in case someone tries to get fancy with the definition of “brother,” Exodus 23:4 says that if you find your enemies ox, return it!

Stories like the one about the pillaged liquor truck can be balanced by good stories. A man filled up with petrol, paid the attendant and was preparing to drive away when he realized he’d been given too much change. He went inside and reported the error to the owner of the petrol station. The owner was taken aback by the man’s honesty. He said that in twenty years that had happened only once before. He remembered that a man, somewhat older than this honest customer, had returned for the same reason. “In fact,” the petrol station owner said, “the man was driving a truck with the same logo as the one you have on your van.” There were only two trucks in the whole town with that logo. One owned by this honest customer, and the other by his father. Honesty runs in the family.

The fourth principle of community is the importance of giving.
In Malachi 3:8 – 10, God asked a question. “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ’How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me.”

Israel was stealing from God by failing to give. But pay careful attention to what the next verse says.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”

God didn’t want the food for himself. He wanted money in the treasury so that those who needed financial help could find it. God has always wanted his people to give so that those in need could be cared for.

Stealing does more than reduce the victim’s ability to give. It reduces our will to give as well. When something is taken from us, we naturally become more possessive of what is left. The more possessive we become, the less generous we are.

The less generous we are, the poorer the church becomes.

It is rare that you find a victim of theft as eager to give as someone who has never known that fear. And you never find a thief who has a heart to give. The eighth commandment seeks to protect and affirm the value of generosity.

One last community principle is affirmed in this commandment; the inability of possessions to make us happy.
Someone once said that contentment is a virtue to be cultivated not by expanding wealth, but by diminishing desire.

When we keep a $10 note we find on the floor without trying to return it to its owner, when we pocket the incorrect change, when we cheat on our taxes, when we overcharge a client, when we lie about our age to get a discount, we are confessing something. We are confessing that we believe happiness comes from possessions. The more we possess the happier we are.

It’s a slow process so often we don’t notice it. But when we live that way, our community begins to break down. Eventually we begin to see people not as valued creatures made in the image of God, but as something to exploit. Possessions become more important to us than our relationships.

We see people who have more than we do and we envy them. Envy turns to jealousy and our jealousy has the potential to turn to violence. Life together becomes a dangerous, sometimes deadly game, where the one with the most is perceived to be the winner. Ultimately, though we all lose.

But losing touch with each other is not the greatest loss. When we violate the eighth commandment, whether by outright theft, or by other, more socially acceptable forms of dishonesty, we are also violating the first commandment to have no other gods before the one, true God.

Something has become more important to us that the most important Someone … God!

And like we said at the beginning of this series every command follows from the first one of putting God first.

When something is stolen from us it’s fairly easy to replace it.
But when God wanted to replace a stolen relationship, it cost him dearly.

Satan stole our relationship with God by deceiving Adam and Eve. And that’s what’s at stake here.

Not stuff but Souls.

The next time you or I are faced with an opportunity to practice community-building-honesty or community-destroying-dishonesty, we need to remember what price our God had to pay for us to have community in the first place.

The same price He paid for your soul. The price paid on the Cross.